This post began when I decided to not follow a blogger who wrote exclusively erotic posts that the prudish me found hard to digest (although I appreciated her spirit). And that got me thinking. For all the reasonableness and free thinking that I pretend to sprout, I am a product of my culture. There are too many factors unique to us that I love and hate. I am proud of where I hail from but DO NOT think that we are better off than everyone else. The following is an assortment of our narrow ‘normal’ habits. I admit that the list is bitter flavored but I also wanted to get it off my chest. Like it or hate it, strange or not you find it, this is how things are done here.
For a community where everyone thinks it is their business to put their nose into others business, we are surprisingly dense when it comes to topics such as grieving, coping with death, illness, gays, mental health, divorce, sex and pregnancy. Such everyday happenings that human beings around the planet deal with, but we pretend to think it will go away if only we do not talk of it.
- In our tiny state, sex is a taboo word and not something that people openly talk about. I suppose that people from other cultures might find it weird and silly but that is the way things are done here. Even in our popular movies, you wouldn’t see the couples sharing a kiss. The romance is subtle and our towns and parks may have a few couple bravely holding hands, but that is about it!
- Falling in love is an offence at our schools and parents will be notified of any romantic developments. You will be watched like a hawk and reprimanded for every stolen glance. Teachers make it their duty to ensure that the young ones are not led ‘wayward’ and that the ‘rebellious’ ones don’t dare to make matches. Drugs, fights, bad scores and a nasty temper could be excused. But not romance! Teenagers will spend hours in the office of the Principal being told off, apologizing and promising a better conduct thereafter. I say this for I have been there, bawling my eyes out, because my 16-year-old-studious-self fell in love with her mischief-maker classmate, a match that my school deemed inappropriate. My teachers didn’t approve of this relationship and 8 years later, I hear that they are still wondering if we are together. We are, and they are not too pleased about it!
- We have very tight norms on what is deemed appropriate and not. My schools had separate staircases for boys and girls and if you are a proper girl, you would never be caught on the boy’s stairs even if it is empty of lurking boys or the quicker route to Chemistry lab. Reputation is everything, you know. Our public transport modes have a set of seats reserved for women and even in cities women do not sit anywhere else but on those marked exclusively for them. The comical result being that the seats not labelled women are, in effect, reserved for men folk!
- Tattle-tale kids get to be the teacher’s pets and the tendency will be generously favored by authorities for long before the alienation sets in. Everyone hates them but will also be wary of showing the hatred. The worst part is that some grow up to be tell-tale adults. They are found everywhere. Even my 55 year old mother is bitter about her colleague who does the undercover work for the management and informs on their chats. Some people make it their business to betray others confidence. I wonder if it is only here that they are treated with resentment disguised as friendship in the fear of backlash.
- I have known too many people who have battled cancer. But I have never heard someone speaking of how the disease affected their lives. Sure, we all know that it hurts and that it is a dreadful thing to happen. But the emotional trauma? Survivor’s guilt? The scars left to heal themselves? Nope. No one speaks about that. The ones who might are definitely the odd birds.
- The same goes with deaths as well. For a community that never really lets go of the dead, I realize that it is strange. Practically every one of our houses will have the photographs of their dead ancestors hanging on the walls. We grow up listening to tales of them. Our widows almost never remarry and it is even considered her wifely duty to hold on to her dead husband’s memories, raise her children and grieve all her life. Unless the girl in question is very young, you can bet that she will rarely face even half timid inquiries on how she is moving on. On the other hand, if it is a man who chooses to never remarry, he will be admired for his love and sacrifice. More often than not, there will be matches made for him, alliances sought and marriages arranged. I do not mean to belittle or pass judgement on both scenarios but that is just how things happen here. More on that later.
- We do not have support groups. We also do not indulge our teenagers and expect them to rebel. Teenage, as far as our adults are concerned is just an age like any other. We wouldn’t dare to bang out doors shut, stomp away in anger, crack things in fury. We do not have curfews either. Perhaps I should rephrase it as the ingrain habit of coexisting with a curfew always that you doesn’t realize to call it by that name. After school or tuition, we are expected to return home. Going out with friends or hanging around at a friend’s place require parental approval and there are extra conditions applied marked with an * sign for a girl.
- No one even talks about hangover. I associated it with western lifestyle and not with alcoholic consumption. My grandparents, father and brother indulge in an occasional bottle and my mother brews wine at home. I have tasted the adults drink while I was still a child and found that too bitter to stomach. But before Hollywood and English novels, I never imagined that after a drinking spree most people have a grouchy morning after.
- Good young people get married in the traditional, arranged way with the blessings of family and society. Big, fat weddings in all their pompous glory! It involves an exchange of a handsome sum of money (dowry) too. Ask them why they do that, and the meek and obedient kids will tell you that it is the risk-proof way. Your family will find a suitable spouse for you that match every expectation. You are assured the best catch with zero chances of parental displeasure. The filters? Financial background, religion and sect, education, career, and physical attributes including complexion, height, weight, hair length, and even voice. That is how the dutiful, nice people find their dutiful, nice mates to procreate even more dutiful, nice kids. If nothing else, we are a dutiful, nice community!
I shall wind up now and call it a day. Abrupt? Not my fault! Well, perhaps it is, but didn’t I warn you that it is an odd assortment? See you all later…